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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Reference Library for My Upcoming ACKS Campaign

My Adventurer Conqueror King System campaign will be kicking off two weeks from today and I'm trying to make sure I have all of my pieces in place.  Therefore I have assembled my "Reference Library" if you will.  For those following at home, it consists of the following:

ACKS Core Rulebook - Kinda obvious, I know, but figured it deserved a mention.  Not much in the way of house rules (Max HP, 3d6 and arrange as you want - we are using the ACKS Online Character Generator)

ACKS Player Companion (GaryCon Edition) - this has only been released to Kickstarter supporters, but I've included it in the mix.

Blackmarsh - sandbox setting for use with Old School systems.  Free in PDF at RPGNow.  This is where my smaller "mini-sandbox" is being placed.

Hex 000 Series from Loviatar Zine - Christian's excellent sandbox series from his zine.  This will form the core of my mini-sandbox.  BTW Christian, how about rereleasing the Free City of Haldane in print?  Pretty please?  Can't find my copy anywhere :(

Tome of Adventure Design - if I need a random table, I can find it here.  If I need some tools to spark my creativity, I can find it here.  Not sure if I'd be picking this up if I didn't already have it just for this game, but I do and it will see some good use.

Toys For the Sandbox Series - not all of them are a good fit for the campaign setting I'm working on, but some should fit fine and others may need some work to fit.  just for the sheer number of plot hooks and personality filled NPCs could keep my running for months.

LotFP Grindhouse Edition Referee Book - one of Raggi's best pieces of work, I'll be keeping this nearby me as I work on some plot hooks and set encounters the PCs may find in their travels.  This book is almost worth buying the whole set.  As I already have it in both dead tree and PDF, it will see much use.

Random Esoteric Creature Generator For Classic Fantasy RPGs and Their Modern Simulacra - talk about a long ass title.  One of Raggi's earliest works and one of his most useful.  I'm definitely going to try to keep the PCs (and their players) honest, and this should be an excellent tool to keep them on their toes.  I already had this in PDF from RPGNow but would have bought it again.  It actually was my plan to, as I'd heard nothing but good about it, and forgot I picked it up years ago (when I had no game to GM)

This doesn't include the dungeons that the PCs my find / get drawn to / investigate / etc.  The above listing is pretty much System and Setting and Tools.



Sandbox Thoughts - Why is There a Giant Living Outside of Town?

When populating your sandbox with adversaries and nasties, you need to consider the type of area it is.  Most beginning characters will start off in or near civilized lands, which makes it unlikely that there will be a hill giant living on the hill outside of town.  There very well might be a hill giant living on the hill, but if he is, he most assuredly has some arrangement with the town leadership that allows him to stay unmolested.

Civilized areas will deal with large threats and generally ignore small ones.  Small bands goblins might threaten travelers on the roads, but that is why one hires guards.  They would be fools to threaten a town or village, as the repercussions would probably be lethal and final.

The further from civilization, the greater the chance that some serious baddies will roam relatively unmolested.  The less serious baddies?  They will be found as tribes in much greater numbers than in the outskirts of civilization, or in the employment (or enslavement) of stronger elements.

What does this mean for my sandbox?  For the most part, wandering encounters in the initial, fairly civilized starting area will be level appropriate with some exceptions.  Those exceptions will generally leave signs or hints of their existence, be seen initially from a distance and / or be unique to some extent. Their point of existence is not to decimate the party, but to remind them that there are forces they are not yet strong enough to engage, let alone defeat.  If they do engage, they deserve whatever results befall them.

Now, every rule needs an exception.

Want to drop an ogre into the environment?  Maybe he does odd jobs around town, and in turn they keep him well fed.  Maybe the feed is leftovers from the tavern, or maybe it's travelers that stay at the inn.

In a sandbox, things generally should exist for a reason.  Is there a goblin raiding party in the area?  Maybe they were cast off from a larger tribe further away.  Maybe their tribe is starving, and they are looking for new lands to feed their families.  The more you give the players to work with, the more they will start giving you, the GM, stuff to work with.  It's a two way process. and rewarding when it works well.

Next up, I'll talk about setting up wandering encounter tables for your sandbox.

Hill Giant by David Rabbitte

Mini Review - The Horrendous Heap of Sixteen Cities! (Labyrinth Lord)

There are your standard fantasy RPG settings and then you have settings like The Horrendous Heap of Sixteen Cities, which is anything but standard.  There is no way my own words will do it justice, so I'll borrow Dylan's:


 Extending above a haze of reeking steam rise sixteen peaks of garbage magically transported from sixteen different cities. It spreads, like an ever-growing fungus, across the landscape, encompassing and corrupting nearly fifty square miles. Hideous flies, crows, and vultures circle the piles, perpetually avoiding garbage falling from magical portals thousands of feet in the air. Giant rats, skunks, maggots, and other manner of repugnant beasts scuttle about the surface, surviving off the offal. Underneath, giant worms crawl through the debris. Periodic explosions reform the horizon. Some cultures call it “Sheoal”, others “Kol Katta”. All, however, use the common vernacular “The Heap”. And everywhere its name is synonymous with “Hell”. 



As you can see, far from standard.  Also, far from large.  It is basically a micro-setting - an area to be placed within a larger setting.  As such, and due to the fairly unique and special nature of the HHoSC!, this is something that you will probably need to plant seeds of knowledge fairly early in the campaign.  PCs would have heard of something this unique, at least as a legend or rumor, so to spring it on your players out of the blue would be horribly unfair.  Still, nothing will truly prepare them for experiencing the real thing.

The HHoSC! is very much a sandbox, even if its a small sandbox, and it provides the GM with a number of hooks to get the party to (and into) the HHoSC!  It is appropriate for most levels, although low level characters will have to tread very carefully.

This isn't a plop and drop type of adventure, but if you prepare in advance, it should give your party a unique and fun experience.

From the blurb:


THE HORRENDOUS HEAP OF SIXTEEN CITIES! is a sandbox fantasy adventure.  Contained within are original and terrifying monsters, maps of The Heap, and multiple adventures for months of play.
  • 17 New Monsters
  • 3 Maps
  • 5 Detailed Non-Player Characters
  • More than 25 Original Illustrations
  • 7 Plot Hooks

Friday, April 20, 2012

Quick Start - Call of Cthulhu - Free at RPGNow

Maybe you've never played Call of Cthulhu.  Maybe you never heard of it.  Alright, not possible but still, we had to throw it out there.

Maybe you want to test the rules before jumping in "whole hog", so to speak.  There seems to be a near limitless selection of sourcebooks, scenarios and campaigns for the system.

Maybe you're like me, and you have had the game for years, played it once or twice, and you would like to refresh your memories without rereading the rulebook again.  Because maybe 28 pages including the scenario goes down that much easier.

Maybe you like to have a free collection of quick starts.  I know I do. :)

The Call of Cthulhu Quick Start is an excellent example of the type of product Chaosium puts out.  Grab yourself a freebie ;)

From the blurb:


Horror Roleplaying in the Worlds of H.P. Lovecraft

The Great Old Ones ruled the earth aeons before the rise of humankind. Originally they came from the gulfs of space and were cast down by even greater beings. Remains of their cyclopean cities and forbidden knowledge can still be found on remote islands in the Pacific, buried amid the shifting sands of vast deserts, and in the frigid recesses of the polar extremes. Now they sleep — some deep within the enveloping earth and others beneath the eternal sea, in the drowned city of R'lyeh, preserved in the waters by the spells of mighty Cthulhu. When the stars are right they will rise, and once again walk this Earth.

Welcome to Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules, a booklet that collects the essential rules for Call of Cthulhu and presents them in abbreviated form.

This book comprises a basic roleplaying game system, a framework of rules aimed at allowing players to enact a sort of improvisational radio theater—only without microphones—and with dice determining whe­ther the characters succeed or fail at what they attempt to do. In roleplaying games, one player takes on the role of the gamemaster (or Keeper, in Call of Cthulhu), while the other player(s) assume the roles of player characters (PCs) in the game. The gamemaster also acts out the roles of characters who aren’t being guided by players: these are called non-player characters (NPCs).

From its origin, Call of Cthulhu was designed to be intuitive and easy to play. Character attributes follow a 3D6 curve, and the other Call of Cthulhu mechanics are even simpler. Virtually all rolls determining success or failure of a task are determined via the roll of percentile dice. This means that there’s less fiddling with dice of different types, and the concept of a percentile chance of success is extremely easy for beginners and experienced players to grasp.

Use this booklet to play Call of Cthulhu immediately. Games rules, pre-generated characters, and a classic adventure are included. You will need to supply your own dice. 

James From Grognardia Has an Article at WotC!

Holy crapaholy!

James M from Grognardia has an article over at WotC.

Technically it's part of Dragon #407, but you don't need a DDI sub to read it (which is good, cause mine lapsed years ago)

Read A Primer on Elemental Literature & Alchemy here.

Congrats James!  Good stuff.

(yeah, I don't think my riffs on DnD Next are going to open any doors for me over there ;)

DnD Next is the RPG Equivalent of the Movie Dusk to Dawn


Wait! Hear me out on this one. I actually do have a line of reasoning for this train of thought.

1 - Dusk to Damn starts out as a gross out crime thriller, then turns into a wacky vampire flick.

D&D Next started out as One Game to Rule Them All, and has now turned into Bruce and Monte Bring Their House Rules to 3rd Edition.

2 - A combination of some very good and some very bad acting in Dusk to Dawn.

A combination of some good ideas and some very bad ideas presented so far for D&D Next.

3 - To entice people into the Titty Twister, Cheech Marin's character goes into his "pussy sales pitch", which ends with "If we don't have it, you don't want it"

To entice people to buy into D&D Next, Monte and Bruce have been doing their "D&D Next sales pitch" which sounds something like this:

We have all types of D&D!

Old School, New School, No School!

With Grid, Without Grid, With half a Grid!

Simple, Complex, Shaken not Stirred!

Lots of options, few options, no options!

Vancian Magic, at will powers, no powers!

With Dice, Without Dice, Dice that roll themselves!

If we don't have it, you don't want to play it!

4 - Both have clerics, although I am not sure clerics in D&D Next can still make holy water. If they can, I'm sure a Holy Water Super Soaker can't be far behind.

5 - Dusk to Dawn ended with few survivors and a briefcase full of money.

- D&D Next hopes to have some of it's designers survive the annual WotC Christmas Purge. They would also like a briefcase full of money, preferably yours.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Monte Cook Goes to Crazytown - Paladin VS Cleric: Fight!


(Again with the manufacturing issues that don't exist.  Clerics and Paladins have coexisted since the 70s.  If it aint broke, don't fix it)

Original article is here

Okay, so you’re not likely to see a paladin and a (good) cleric throw down. The fight referred to in the title isn’t a literal one. But there is the potential for conflict in concept. Recently, we wrote about the cleric being both an armor-wearing, mace-wielding crusader and a flamestrike-casting priest, and a lot of you suggested that the former cleric archetype steps on the toes of the paladin. Or the paladin steps on the toes of the cleric. Either way, it’s a fine point. The paladin is also an armor-wearing crusader. So how do we ensure that these types of characters are different? (are we giving clerics swords and lay on hands?  must all clerics be lawful good?  do clerics get combat maneuvers or whatever the f' they are going to call it in De Next version of De Game? are paladins getting boat loads of spells?)
One way is to focus more on the knightly aspect of the paladin: the cavalier in shining armor with a sword and a valorous battle cry, astride a mighty destrier (that horse is going to be awkward in dungeons, unless it is a classic summonable paladin steed). Thus, to distinguish them from clerics, we’d give them bonuses to mounted combat (and this will be useful exactly how often?), and maybe focus on their interest in protecting their allies. Maybe a paladin shares a shield bonus with those next to him or her, for example (that may work, and is definitely stolen from MMORPGs.  isn't that what folks accused 4e of). A knight in shining armor indeed. Such abilities, of course, would make paladin players want to fight from horseback (hard to do inside) (didn't i just say this?  and why do the abilities only have o work on horseback?). But it would also encourage them to think defensively and look at friends protectively. Perhaps as the paladin gains levels, the ability to protect allies from harm would increase—his or her mere presence could give bonuses to saving throws because allies are so encouraged by having him or her nearby. (wait, isn't that what Protection From Evil 10' radius already does?)
Or, perhaps we accept the idea that a holy warrior who smites evil foes is interesting enough that we allow both paladin and cleric embrace that archetype, just in different ways. The cleric’s got spells that aid him in combat, of course (as he always has), and the paladin has a unique ability to truly destroy her evil foes. A damage bonus against all evil foes she faces would certainly lay a clear path toward what a paladin is “supposed” to do, at least in the minds of some paladin fans (this makes more sense than the awkward mess above)
These are all abilities paladins have had in various prior editions. We could also hop on the train to Crazytown (i have never this expression before.  where and what exactly is Crazytown?  There is a Crazytrain, but I guess WotC doesn't want to reference Ozzy) and give paladins really new and truly unique abilities. Perhaps the paladin’s holy nature protects him or her against evil to a degree that he or she resists damage from all evil foes (and eventually can extend that protection to allies). Or maybe a paladin gains huge skill and movement bonuses if he or she is moving toward a quest that involves fighting evil or protecting the weak (this is too metagamy for my tastes). Or maybe the paladin eventually gains the ability to teleport right to the nearest concentration of evil (now this idea is just plain stupid).
Like I said, Crazytown (or Stupid-Moronicville Village Idiot). But you see where I’m going, I think. The paladin offers some interesting opportunities for wild class abilities. Historically speaking, a paladin is likely second only to the monk for being the class with the most over-the-top inherent capabilities.

What follows in the original is a survey.  I hate WotC surveys.  If you want to answer the Village Idiot survey, take the Crazytrain to Crazytown, or just use the link that is at the top of this post.

Games From the Basement - Amoeba Wars

When I think of "beer and pretzels" gaming, I think of Amoeba Wars.  If my memory serves, it was playable with 2 to 5 players (but 4 to 5 was best).

It was simple.  Not Monopoly simple, but pretty basic, as the rules took up less than 5 pages.  You had starships and dreadnoughts, and got to fight abstracts space battles on an abstract star map and attempt to keep you people alive, from both opposing players and those damn Amoebas.  They could spread like a fuck'n space cancer when they got going.  The amoebas, not the other players ;)

It also played fairly quickly too, usually in less that 2 hours.

Yep, this was one of our non-rpg go to games (along with Chaos Marauders and Talisman).

It was part of Avalon Hills "bookshelf" series of games, as it's box was made to sit on a bookshelf and be readily identifiable from the side panel.

Good stuff :)

Sandbox Thoughts - Its All About the Choices

There are different thoughts of what constitutes a "sandbox" in an RPG sense, but it's basic definition comes down to "player choice".

For some campaigns, the players choose the direction and the GM has to build things quickly around the party's choices. This, in my opinion, is the hardest type of sandbox to run successfully. You need a group of players that can thrive without outside direction, a setting with enough history to take on a life of it's own (and players well versed in the setting, as they are manufacturing the plots for the most part) and a GM that works well improvising on the run (and does an even better job of documenting all of his improvisations, else discrepancies will come back to haunt him. I'm good at the improv part, horrible at the documentation ;)

My sandboxes are usually sandboxes with built in choices. Enough options to give the players validation that their choice has value in the direction the campaign takes, but not so many that it seems their options are overwhelming. When your options are overwhelming, your choice seems to have little value. For the campaign to be successful, the players choices must have value and meaning, for both the PCs and the setting.

That isn't to say the PCs can't choose a choice that isn't one of the ones presented via rumor / hook / history. Players often find their own trouble, and a sandbox style campaign is built to handle such with minimal issues. It's hard to derail a plot train when there isn't a train or tracks to be derailed. Still, the GM must be comfortable improvising, even if its only roadblocks to slow the players down so you can prepare for the new twist in time for next session.

I also keep my initial sandbox relatively small. Large enough to offer the PCs valid choices, but small enough that they can feel comfortable with their surroundings, and knowledgable of the events that are happening around them. When it comes time for the players to explore new surroundings, I just pull back the focus, expanding the sandbox.

In a sandbox, characters can influence the setting, but the setting continues without them too. Events transpire in the background. The PCs are just one component of a larger story (in Adventure Paths, it often seems that the world revolves around the PCs).

So, thats my basic sandbox setup. When I next post about sandboxes, I'll be talking about placing the nasties.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Looking at the Latest "Rule of Three": Modular Weapons and (Non) Combat - Or - We Simply Aren't There Yet


and here you thought that answers to questions would give you definitive answers...


What thought, if any, have you given to deciding what modular rules go into the initial D&D Next release and what rules will be released in subsequent supplements?

I chose to answer this question because my answer is going to apply to the many, many product-related questions we get for Rule-of-Three. The work we're doing right now D&D Next isn't what you would call product development (yeah, but monday's post WAS about product development) ; we are not working on books, we're trying to create the game system that is going to be featured and expanded in various products (at this point in the game I'd hope they were closer to figuring out the system and moving to the next part.  guess not.  they really did give an extremely early beta to the players and DnD Experience and apparently haven't gotten much further). As such, there are many decisions about what goes into a product that we have not even started working on because it's far too early in the process (i call BS on this.  the products are the money makers.  they have an idea of what the initial products are going to be). While we've got a running list of optional and variant rules we can include (Hit locations! Lingering wounds! Hexes! Firearms!), and many of those will likely appear right alongside the base rules in whatever products we release, no decisions have been made as to what rules variants will go into particular products.

Are we going to see mostly weapons we're familiar with, doing the same range of damage from d4 to d12, or multiples of dice? Can we expect to see a return of weapon damage types as was mentioned in a previous conversation? Also, do you expect to see any exotic weapon choices in the core or is that something you'd like to hold off for a later release?

Yeah, I'm cheating by letting these three count as one question, but they're all related and allow for relatively simple answers. I think we want weapons to meet player expectations, and some of the basic things you mention (like weapons having varying but basic damage dice) meet those expectations and function well. One area where we might make some tweaks is trying to level the playing field on a lot of common weapons, because for many players, a weapon is an aesthetic choice, and it's kind of a drag to pick a weapon for aesthetic reasons only to find out your character is somehow hampered because you didn't make another, less aesthetically pleasing choice (this makes sense.  i think there was an issue of Dragon in the late 60s that had a chart like such, which also adjusted the damage dice by class). Also, yes, right now we're looking at typing weapon damage, just like we do with spell damage. So, a mace might do 1d8 bludgeoning damage, for example.

As for exotic weapons, it's too early to know what is going to appear where. However, I would like to point out that when we talk about the "core of the game" we're not talking about the "core rulebooks" for the game. As I mentioned above, we're not working on products yet, we're trying to get the mechanical core of the system down—the basic functions of the game that make the game tick—before we start worrying about what kinds of content goes into a particular product. (yeah, but the "core of the game" will need to be in the "core rulebooks".  actually, the "core rulebooks" will by necessity be "the core of the game".  and no, i'm not referring to the exotic weapons question / comment, but the weird "core" comment)


One of the things that people worry about is combat and non-combat abilities competing with each other. Are the designers/developers of D&D Next worried about this kind of thing, and if so, what are you doing to mitigate it?

In general, we want to make sure that everyone has a baseline level of competence in all three pillars of play (combat, interaction, and exploration, for those of you who haven't read previous Rule-of-Three articles) so that they can participate in adventures that use those game play pillars in different ratios. (i really don't feel comfortable watching my game get defined in such absolutes) We want players to have a lot of freedom when choosing what to focus on. For example, in 4E if a player wants to blow all of his feats on extra languages and Skill Focus, that's totally OK. Likewise, I play a 27th-level wizard (I still can't get used to the levels that characters reach in 4e) in Chris Perkins' Wednesday night game, and I get far more exciting use out of my utility spells than I do from my attack spells (I'm looking at you, time stop). If I could trade in some of my attack powers for more uses of utility powers, I totally would. So, when it comes to customization points, we want to let people choose what they want to focus on (be that combat, diplomacy, being the best liar ever, being a super stealthy thief, or whatever) and trust the baseline competence we've built into all characters to make sure everyone feels like they can participate. (i've been told that 4e is pretty much all combat abilities, and even what appears on the surface to be non-combat, requires a combat maneuver to set it off.  have the books.  tried to read them.  wanted to like them.  never played and have no desire.  that being said, it looks like they plan to put some "role play" back into the D&D game, so it can't be all bad)

Barrowmaze II at Indigogo

Greg Gillespie has opened up crowd funding for his Barrowmaze II project.  It went live last night, and is just short of raising $1k as I post this.  The goal is $4k, with stretch goals making the product even sweeter for supporters.

I really enjoyed Barrowmaze I (did I mention it's the number 3 seller at RPGNow as I post this?), and plan on slipping it into my upcoming ACKS campaign.  If all goes well, my party should be ready for Barrowmaze II when it releases in the fall.

Of course, I need to wait until I get paid on Friday before I can officially be a supporter.  So says she who must be obeyed ;)

Some basics from the Indigogo page about Barrowmaze II:


Secret Doors? Check, Deadly Traps? Check, Hidden Treasures? Check, Terrifying Monsters?Check, Slim Chance of Survival? Check.
Where Do I Sign Up?
(p.s. Don't forget your 10 foot pole.)
(p.p.s Ummm, yeah. Forget the pole, it won't really help you against THAT.)

What is Barrowmaze II?

This indiegogo campaign is designed to support the creation of Barrowmaze II (BMII) and, while doing so, provide supporters with exclusive extras and cool bonus perks.  


Barrowmaze II is the second part of a two-part exploration-style megadungeon for Labyrinth Lordand other classic fantasy role-playing games. BMII is a continuation of the initial "dungeon sprawl" concept presented in Barrowmaze I (BMI) and is intended for mid-and-high level characters.


BMI was a self-funded project published in early February for introductory to mid-level play. You can find it at rpgnow.


Barrowmaze I and II combine into one large megadungeon. However, they can also be played independently and are self-contained. You can find links, updates, fan-creations, and freebies at theBarrowmaze website.

A Sandbox Within a Sandbox

I like sandbox styled campaigns, as they tend to feel more "alive" than a strictly plot driven "railroadie" styled campaign (although an occasional track with options running thru a sandbox isn't always a bad thing, so long as the players have a choice in getting on, and have a choice of getting off at any point)

The problem with a sandbox campaign is planting the proper amount of hooks, leads and rumors for the PCs. Too little, and the players have little freedom or choice. Too much, and it can be overwhelming. Too large a sandbox too early in the campaign can leave the party without any sense of direction.

ACKS is a system that is tiered, in the sense that it expects play style and goals will change as the players level.

My thought is to have the sandbox expand as the players level.

The initial sandbox will be centered on Christian's Hex 000 series. There's enough going on in the currently published hexes to keep the party occupied for a number of sessions, moreso if they decide to investigate one or more dungeons I plan on planting the rumor seeds for.

After that, the current plan is to pull back the focus a bit, and use Blackmarsh as the expanded sandbox.
If the party gives me enough advanced indiction as to where they might be heading, I can always whip up a sandbox within the sandbox for that area (if appropriate).

Now I just need to decide on where to plant Christian's Hex Series in Blackmarsh.

I'm open to suggestions...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Yet Another Lame Legends & Lore Column - A Walk Down Monster Lane (D&D 5e)


(It gets harder and harder to read these columns, because there is less and less being said of any import.  Monte used to give us "Marketing Hype" and Mike was giving us "Mike Mearl's Houserule Collection", but Greg is giving us "Bleh!")


A Walk Down Monster Lane
Legends and Lore
Greg Bilsland
Mike's out on vacation (just a quick thought, but these columns are getting shorter by the week and saying less on top of that.  Couldn't Mike just have put a column or two into the hopper?), so I'm taking over Legends & Lore this week to talk about monsters. As a producer in D&D R&D, I'm less involved in the design and development of the game, and more in charge of planning and developing product ideas (translation - I think up more shit to separate you from your money). As a result, I'm hoping to use this opportunity to gather feedback on what people would like to see in the way of monsters for the next iteration of the game—whether it comes in the form of a Monster Manual®, or something else entirely. (hey, lets do the AD&D 2e idea again.  You know, the oversized binder that completely took over the gaming table and had pages that started falling out after the third use, because the paper was cheap and never meant to be used constantly in a 3 ring binder.  Lets do something like THAT again!)
"Outlandish Kobold"
by Ryan Sumo

The original 1974 "white box" included around fifty different types of monsters (not including mundane animals), many of which had a few variations. Most of the monsters didn't have illustrations, nor did they need them. Nearly all of the monsters were recognizable, inspired either by classic myth or fantasy literature. Some of the most outlandish monsters that appeared in the white box are now staples of D&D—oozes and slimes, purple worms, and, of course, kobolds. (kobolds outlandish?)

The basic set in 1977 provided a much more robust creature selection, adding to the core of the game many creatures that had appeared in supplements, including such iconic specimens as the mind flayer, the umber hulk, the beholder, and the rust monster. The AD&D Monster Manual consolidated hundreds of monsters into a single book, delivering to Dungeon Masters a seemingly endless supply of threats. (yep, with just enough text to set the flavor, and just enough art to visualize what needed to be visualized)

If you're a Dungeon Master, and you're like me, then you can never have enough monsters. I must have the Monster Manualand its sequels. In fact (and at the risk of showing my youth), the Monstrous Manual from 2nd Edition was the first D&D book I ever bought, even before I knew how to play D&D (that was the book to correct the binder that came out previously.  the fucker should have been given out for free to the suckers that bought the POS binder upon release). I simply wanted the book because I was fascinated by the monster lore. Even though I had no idea what the statistics meant—I still hadn't figured out THAC0—I could tell from reading about the tarrasque that it was a badass.

So why the trip down monster memory lane? For me, the playtesting process is as much about figuring out the best D&D product offerings (listen, i know D&D is a business, and the hope on the WotC side is it becomes a big business again, and there is something kinda refreshing to be asked "what can we offer you so you will give us all of your cash" but shouldn't you be working towards a working game system first?) as it is about getting feedback on the rules and mechanics of the game. We aim to meet the desires of the D&D community (we desire your money.  please desire our products). Although it's still too early in the design and playtesting process to discuss product X or Y, we'd like to start collecting some general sentiments, such as what monsters are essential to D&D, how many monsters you need if you're a beginning or advanced Dungeon Master, and so forth.  (i'm going to toss out a novel thought - how about including a system {in addition to a Monster Book} about designing your own monsters?  nah, wtf am I thinking?  there's no money in that)

insert survey link - not!

Games From the Basement - Star Ace

Pacesetter produced a fairly large quantity of games in a fairly short time, and Star Ace was one of it's RPGs (along with Chill and Timemaster - they all used the same core resolution system).

What can I tell you about Star Ace?  I clearly remember having one of my player's ships blown to pieces with him in it, and the players was left alive, floating in space.

Ship destroyed, player floating around hoping for a space taxi to pick him up.  Or another player I guess.

Which meant to my eyes, the system had some major problems.  Then again, in retrospect, it's just as likely that I had totally misinterpreted the rules, and the player should have been dead.

Still, we had some good laughs about that one.  Don't think we ever played it again past that session (which is a shame, as I even picked up the Alien sourcebook dealie).

Gaming the Game - Dual Class Characters in ADnD

Dual classing in AD&D 1e was something that was either totally avoided, used solely in the hopes of building a Bard, or simply totally abused.

My name is Erik, and I was a Dual Class abuser.

Dual classing wasn't easy, until Unearthed Arcana came out with it's empowering alternative stat generation method. Well, that or out group's own alternative empowering stat generation method. What can I say? It was High School ;)

You needed a 15 or better in your original class's prime stat, and a 17 or better in your new class's prime stat(s). Not easy to do by the book, but much easier of the book at UA.

My favorite combo, which I was only able to pull off once, was a Fighter (1 level only)to Illusionist. The reason it worked so well was multifold:

The 1st level fighter max of 10 HP was 2 1/2 times that of a 1st level Illusionist. Even squishy casters need hit points.

Specialized in two handed sword meant a decent amount of damage in melee if needed. +1 hit / +2 damage was substantial when added to the d10 / 3d6 damage of that blade of death.

Upon reaching 2nd level as an Illusionist, Phantom Plate spell became a nice combination with the 2 handed sword.

Between Plate and Sword, few suspected there was an illusionist in the party.

I believe that he made it to level 6 as an Illusionist before the campaign faded. It was fun while it lasted.

As you can see, I was pretty good at "Gaming the Game" back in the day.

Even then I wanted to see rules that explained how you could train for a new class between adventures, when the assumption was that your first class took years of preparation. As far as I remember, there wasn't anything in the rules covering it.

Squeezed in Some Arcane Apocalypse Last Night

Thanks to +Charles Jaimet, I got to play in his fantasy hack of Apocalypse World. I've been on record as sating Apocalypse World is the best playing, most obtuse and confusingly written game I've had the pleasure to play. Great ideas poorly explained.

Charles has done a great job not only porting the system to a fantasy setting, but also in making the rules less confusing, or dare I say it, user friendly.

I'm already looking forward to next week's session.

I just need to adjust my mindset to the rules, as they play very differently than other RPGs I'm comfortable with. In retrospect, I see missed some chances to use my Bardic Abilities / Aspects.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Adventurer Conqueror King System in Hand

Yes!  My Adventurer Conqueror King System Hard Cover was waiting for me when I arrived home today.  To make it even better, the ACKS Player's Companions was also in the package.  I have my reading cut out for me it seems ;)

In all seriousness, all my other game reading (except for some reviews) is going to be put on the back burner for a bit.  Sorry, Hollow Earth Expedition.  I'll come back to you in a few weeks.  For now, I have an ACKS campaign to prepare for.

As an aside, doesn't this 2 page spread just rock?



Some Background on the Games From the Basement Series of Posts

I literally have games and RPG books squirreled away throughout the house. In the heyday of my buying / collecting (late 80's to early 90's) I had a decent part time job and little in the way of expenses. Games and comics were my vices, and comics got cut back way before games ever did.

My wife has told me in no uncertain terms that the majority of my game collection needs to be put in storage, and she is right. I just never realized how much I had.

So, I've agreed to go through my older and likely will never again be played collection of games and box them up for storage, but not before I take a few pics and put up a post or two on the game in question.

Most have some fun memories attached to them, and posting about it helps me relive them in some instances.

Besides, this series of posts kinda doubles as a catalogue of sorts, reminding me of the games that are packed away but not forgotten.

Ah well, I think Star Ace will be next up tonight ;)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Games From the Basement - Star Trek: The Adventure Game

Yes, Star Trek: The Adventure Game.  This gem was put out by West End Games.  The best art was the cover, but it uses Star Trek: The Movie (or one of the movies) for the uniforms.  The back cover shows a shot from Star Trek: The Original Series (with Kirk wearing a green shirt, which wasn't that common.  or was it?)

Anyhow, I picked this up for a few reasons back in the day.

First, this sucker was Star Trek.  Star Trek rocked, and was always more my kind of Sci-Fi than Star Wars ever was (not saying Star Wars was bad - it was pretty awesome, but Star Trek is the Sci-Fi I wanted to live).

Second, although it says it's for 2 players, it also prominently stats on the back of the box that it's suitable for solo play.  As a role-player, I never had trouble getting a group together, but getting together for 1 on 1 play was rare to non existent.  What few war games I had I rarely had someone to play with.  A game that billed itself playable by one player sounded awesome.

Alas, few things work out as well as planned, and this was one of them.  The rules were fairly intricate - this was not a sit down and play game, but a sit down, grab a drink and start studying these damn rules.  Fairly heavy rules for something that had a whole book of solo adventure type paragraphs.  Study I did.  Look at the box.  Look at the counters.  Everything was punched out.  I tried, I really tried.  But a s a solo game this sucked.  It was boring.  It was hard to get invested in it.  The counters were less exciting to look at than those of the war games I wasn't playing.

I still think of this game from time to time.  Wondering if it was me.  Was I somehow defective and not the game?  Would it have played better as a two player game (probably, but than again, probably not enough better to justify the experience)?

Ah well, this one is definitely destined to go to storage.  Interesting more as a curiosity to me and little more.  It's a shame, really.

But hey, here's Spock for your Hobbit enjoyment ;)



Making Some Observations on Bruce Cordell's Latest Post - Imagination, the Grid, and Points Between


There is little to pick nits from in this post, but it does give some idea of the possible direction(s) D&D Next may take when it comes to resolving combat.  Original article is here
When I first started playing D&D oh so many years ago, fights with monsters played out entirely in the Theater of the Mind (TotM). A typical fight went something like so:
Me: “I listen at the door.”
DM: “All’s quiet.”
Me: “Great. I push it open, sword ready.”
JD: “My wizard is right behind Bruce!”
DM: “The room is L-shaped—20 feet wide. Some trash lies along the walls and . . . there’s a wooden chest lying on its side, half splintered, like someone dropped it. Coins are visible through the cracked lid.”
Me: “We enter, but we’re ready for a trap. No one leaves treasure just lying around.”
DM: “Nothing happens.”
Me: “Fine. I kick the chest with my boot.”
DM: “The lid comes off completely. Gold coins spill everywhere!”
Me: “Well, I guess we shouldn’t look a gift horse in—”
DM: “Around the corner of the room come four orcs! ‘Surface dwellers! Kill them! Cut them to mincemeat! Pound them to hamburger!’ they yell. The first two catch you by surprise and attack. [The DM rolls dice.] One misses. One rolls a 17 and hits you for 5 points of damage! The other two go around you and charge the wizard.”
Me: “By Moradin’s tangled beard! I attack the closest one. [I roll dice.] An 18!”
DM: “You hit. How much damage?”
Me: “Six points.”
 DM: “That’s enough. You cut it in half.”
[The fight continues until all four orcs are dead, and the poor wizard behind me is unconscious.]
(This to me is what D&D combat is all about.  Bruce may call it The Theater of the Mind, but I think it's as magical as any Wizard's spell.  It also is the path they will need to choose if they want to get any sort of complete game playing notched within an hour's worth of game time.  Not that I personally think an hour is doable, especially with the BS sessions that come included with every gaming session - a two hour block would have been more realistic in my mind)
Over time, our D&D fights grew more complex, perhaps featuring more than one kind of monster, and with monsters arrayed in different areas across a larger location. In such instances, the DM would sometimes sketch out the battle on a piece of scratch paper and update it as the fight progressed.
(which is about how far my group progressed while playing AD&D 2e, with the possible exception of using miniatures to show the parties marching order / formation)
Of course, as subscribers of Dragon magazine, we were keenly aware of all the amazing miniatures that other people painted and used in their games. (I learned I really couldn't paint miniatures for shit.  these days, my 44 year old eyes can't see details enough to come close to my previous paining skill, which as I said, wasn't worth shit ;) Eventually we gathered enough miniatures (or, failing that, a square of paper with a name and a facing arrow on it) to track position on the tabletop instead of using sketches.
And so it went . . .
With the launch of 3rd Edition, miniatures became a more expected part of the D&D game experience. This experience was only solidified in 4th Edition, where every fight was assumed to occur on a battle grid, and where tracking every space a character could move and every kind of action a character could take was important in determining success or failure in a fight. (rpg, war-game or board game?  sometimes I can't tell what 4e's primary roll is)
Each of these methods has its pros and cons—more than I can list here (which doesn’t mean it isn’t an important pro or con, only that I have limited space). (as this is a blog post on WotC's webspace, shouldt Bruce have unlimited space with which to post?  just curious about this.)  But here’s a broad overview:
TotM is quick! Fights happen quickly, and adventurers move steadily through the adventure, exploring many more rooms, having many more NPC encounters, and concluding many more fights than a D&D game that relies solely on grid-based tactical encounters. The downside is that TotM can be confusing, and sometimes the players and DM have different views on the positions of all those involved, which isn’t ideal.  (it may occasionally be confusing, but is it worth the time consumption and distraction to aim for perfection?  for me, constant use of a battle grid takes me out of the role playing aspect of the game and moves it more to a wargaming or board gaming experience.  Is that what we want with the Next, or any edition, of D&D?)
Roughly sketching the positions of combatants on scratch paper (or a whiteboard, if you’re lucky) has the advantage of being fairly quick, while giving players a reasonable idea of who’s where and what the environment looks like.  (this is a fine compromise, so long as we aren't breaking out the blast templates and bringing out the rules lawyers to the table.  personally, I like white boards, and I'm hoping for a G+ Hangout app that includes such)
Using minis to track general position allows players both to identify with a mini of their own character and get a better three-dimensional sense of their character’s surroundings. (key word is "general" - any more precise than that and we start losing the sense of it being an RPG)
Finally, using precise tactical rules and a well-drawn grid gives characters an exact understanding of where their characters stand, where each monster and hazard in the environment is situated, and how their movement and special abilities will interact. Of course, tactical fights on a grid take far longer than fights using TotM, and when all conflict is relegated to the grid, a night of play might see you through only a single combat before it’s time to end. (Bruce just described 4e, didn't he?  Yep, that's the type of game I want to play, an encounter a night.  Move my miniatures, grab advantage, use my blast templates, daily and encounter powers, everyone gets magic - i mean, "powers".  That isn't an role playing game - it's a board game with role playing trappings.  That's my opinion and I'm sticking with it)
That’s the general overview. But here’s the thing: is it important that every fight in an ongoing D&D game use exactly the same format for every encounter? Or should the game rules encourage the DM to set up a particular encounter using the method most appropriate to resolving it, whether that be TotM, the tactical grid and its associated rules, or points between?  (the variable method is going to lead to upset players, especially when they can use one method or another to their advantage, and the DM decides to use a non-adventagious method.  Players do tend to seek out every advantage they can make for themselves)

Games From the Basement - Chivalry & Sorcery 3rd Edition

I literally had no ideas that I owned Chivalry & Sorcery 3rd Edition.  Some of the games I rediscover I go "oh yeah, I remember this.  I read the first dozen pages then put it down" or some such.  I have no such memories of C&S.

Heck, even the binding looks like the book was never opened.

This is really irking me, as it seems like it mysteriously appeared on it's own on a shelf, and I know there's no way that could have happened.  I am glad that I didn't pick up a copy off of Ebay last year, as I'd now have 2 copies of a game I never read.

Heck, I opened up and tried to read C&S 2e after grabbing that on Ebay.  Not saying I got far, but I did get farther than I ever attempted with 3e ;)

Glancing through it now, I can see it is an extremely crunchy system.  Lots of charts, lots of text, lots of numbered sections.  There was a time when I might have been able to absorb the information in this rulebook and potentially run a game.  That time in my life has been lost to me.

Might I be able to play in a game of C&S?  Sure, so long as C&S was second nature to the GM, but that goes for any system.  A knowledgable GM makes up for any deficiencies in his players.